Child care spaces very limited in Toronto amid implementation of $10-a-day child care

As parents struggle to find affordable daycare spaces, some say they may have to delay going back to work. Shauna Hunt with the growing wait lists and what advocates say is the number one issue.

By Shauna Hunt and Meredith Bond

With the introduction of the $10-a-day childcare nationwide, families are struggling to find spaces now more than ever.

One Greater Toronto Area (GTA) woman tells CityNews she’s on 15 to 20 waitlists for her six-month-old son and fears she will have to choose between extending her maternity leave or spending $25,000 per year on daycare.

“It’s not something I’m looking forward to doing. It’s something that I want to do. I like to return to work and have that work-life balance, but that might not be possible,” said first-time mom Samantha Rodrigues.

Rodrigues has been looking for child care since finding out she was pregnant with her son Oliver, even going far outside her local area in hopes of finding a spot.

“It’s becoming more and more stressful because I don’t know what type of care facilities my child is going to have. And it’s becoming real. As each day passes, I try to check-in. I try to see… the availabilities. I prefer something closer to home.”

More than 92 per cent of Ontario’s licensed child care providers opted into the federal government’s $10-a-day program. Those that haven’t are still charging full price.

Rodrigues tells CityNews her best chance is a space at one of those facilities, but the price will be over $2,500 a month.

Ontario’s Ministry of Education tells CityNews the province is on track to build 86,000 new child care spaces as fast as possible in areas that need them the most, which includes more than 18,000 in Toronto. Advocates say the demand will keep growing because the price drop has not coincided with increased wages and improved working conditions for early childhood educators (ECE).

“Most child care centres I talked to aren’t at capacity — they have spaces empty, and they have rooms closed because they cannot staff,” explained one advocate.

“We know that if the government was serious about tackling that problem and raising the wages in child care, we could re-attract early childhood educators who have left the sector, and we can hire more,” said Carolyn Ferns with the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care.

The waitlist in some areas is now years long as ECEs continue leaving the industry in droves.

“It can be unpredictable because, as I say, child care programs, they’re having to either close rooms or limit their enrollment right now because of the unpredictability of staff,” explained Ferns.

Last year, the province raised the wage floor for ECEs by a dollar an hour and said it would continue to do so for every year of the federal agreement, but Ferns said it doesn’t go far enough.

“We are urging them; they have to do this quickly. They need to significantly boost wages for early child care educators, or we will lose more folks in this sector.”

Child care operators that opted into the federal program have dropped fees by at least half price. The goal is to charge $10-a-day before the end of 2025.

“It’s a good plan, and lowering fees for child care is good. What I think is frustrating is that where we’re being held back by the workforce crisis by a problem that I can see. We could solve governments, and the community could solve this problem together,” Ferns added.

The City of Toronto said they don’t have the ability to confirm or quantify any increase in demand as each child care centre manages its enrollment and waitlists.

The city expects that space will continue to increase, and they are working on a growth plan for the child care sector and expect to see more spaces added beginning this fall.

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